Home Monitors Don't Appear to Predict SIDS
The monitors were used to detect episodes of apnea -- or a sudden halt in breathing lasting at least 20 seconds -- as well as decreases in heart rate. Researchers also used a specially designed monitor to detect "extreme events" -- more severe apnea and more severe decreases in heart rate -- not commonly detected by commercial monitors.
The results showed that there were nearly 7,000 events that would have caused a conventional commercial monitor to sound the alarm, occurring in 41% of all the infants. Even the "extreme" events, though far more common in preterm infants, were fairly frequent in both healthy infants and infants at risk for SIDS.
Because only six infants in the study died from SIDS, the study cannot be used to determine an association between the events and risk for death. But Lister points out that the extreme events tended to occur very early in infants' lives -- much earlier than SIDS typically occurs. SIDS rarely occurs before one month of age. It is most likely to occur when infants are 2-4 months old, with 95% of cases occurring by 6 months of age.
For that reason, he says, even the extreme events do not appear to predict which babies will succumb to SIDS. "These extreme events may represent vulnerability for some later problems, but they are unlikely to be the immediate precursor to SIDS," he tells WebMD. "If they did, you would expect a lot more kids with SIDS [immediately following the extreme events]."
In an editorial accompanying the report, Alan H. Jobe, MD, PhD, notes that approximately 20,000 preterm infants are sent home every year with monitors at a cost of approximately $24 million per year. He says that although the study was not designed to test the usefulness of home monitors to prevent SIDS, the study results in more doubt than ever before on such a practice.
Jobe is with the division of pulmonary biology at Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati.
Pediatrician Michael Malloy, MD, says the results come as no surprise. "They confirm previous research showing that monitoring is not the way for us to go about preventing SIDS," Malloy tells WebMD.